We were most surprised to read the 2 March, 2013 article in Business Bhutan titled “Lowest Performers are Private Schools”. Similar articles were published by Kuensel and Bhutan Today. The premise of these articles, that private schools can be directly compared with government schools or that student performance equals school performance is obviously flawed, but worse was the very obvious confusion in the reporting of the pass percentages.
Confusion When we asked BCSEA officials why our pass percentage calculations did not match what was reported in the media, they blamed the media for not understanding the statistics and when we spoke to the media persons, they said they just reported what they were given.
Today we were able to get our hands on the actual statistics distributed by BCSEA to the media and were shocked to see that the percentages reflected in it were exactly as reported in the media. A deeper scrutiny revealed the source of all the confusion.
While we, and the rest of the public assume that ‘pass percentage’ is simply a percentage of the students who passed from the total who sat for the exam, BCSEA’s version is very different. In their calculation, they do not include repeaters or private candidates.
Private candidates are those students who simply use a school’s test centre even though they are not from that school. It is correct therefore to exclude them from the school’s results.
Repeaters are those students who chose to sit for the BHSEC exam again to improve their grades to better their chances of scholarships or entry to better colleges. They could be passed or not-passed candidates. They are all full-time students in the school and should be included in the calculation. Government schools do not have repeater candidates simply because they have enough top end students to fill their limited seats.
Repeater candidates, because they already have a previous BHSEC result to compare with, offer the best opportunity to measure the improvement a school is able to make in their performance. And the improvement is often really remarkable. The average pass percentage of repeater candidates this year was 94.22% against the average of 86% among the ‘regular’ candidates. Removing this stat completely distorts the analysis and denies the credit that the private schools deserve.
About 200 students of 450 were dropped from Kuenga HSS’ list of candidates. Half of Pelkhil School’s candidates were deleted and with them a much higher pass percentage achieved by them.
Apples & Oranges Even with the proper and complete statistics, it is pointless to compare private schools with government schools. At the higher secondary level, all the coveted seats in government schools are grabbed by the top 50% of students, with the bottom half having to choose to pay and study in private schools or to drop out. In Thimphu for example, with just two government higher secondary schools, qualified students from all over the dzongkhag, and even from distant dzongkhags, have no other choice but to go to these two schools after class X. That the toppers from all other schools will by default find their way to these two schools is a given. In one government high school in Paro for example, the rush for their limited seats in class XI is so great, they can choose to select only the best ones and every year their seats are filled only by students who have scored above 85% in the BCSE!
Therefore, comparing government school results with private school results is simply comparing the top 50% with the bottom 50%. The ‘findings’ are easily predicted!
To be fair to BCSEA, their stats simply listed the pass percentages in descending order and so most of the private schools appeared clustered together at the bottom of the table. As always, it was picked up by the media and the ‘finding’ that private schools had the ‘worst’ past percentages was translated to mean private schools were worse than government schools, and this hit the headlines.
We agree that when one does not fully understand the intricacies of BCSEA’s report analysis, it is tempting to simply treat student performance as school performance, but given the distorted distribution of students across private and government school, such a conclusion is highly erroneous. This is a trap that unfortunately, we find journalists falling into without fail year after year.
Given the short stint each student has in a school, the student’s performance is to a large degree, simply his or her own performance, not the school’s. If one would really like to attribute the performance of students to schools, it should be attributed to the primary or junior schools they came from. Poor academic performance has its roots deeply set in the early years.
Private secondary schools have scarcely 2 years to repair the 10 prior years of poor schooling, and this is at best an impossible undertaking.
In conclusion, since the public can only draw its understanding from the headlines that newspapers publish, it is important that the media understand how things are in the education sector and how the statistics are formulated before publishing questionable headlines. The reputation of a school is the single most important asset it can have, and it is an asset that can be built up only through years of consistent hard work. It is unacceptable that this reputation should be damaged simply because some did not put in their own hard work.
Kuensel article with misleading headline